Left Brain, Right Brain: Does HR Have A Split Personality?

Imagine a big desk. It’s loaded with two huge stacks of work, one on the left side, one on the right. Left side: the administrative pile, dense with data — numbers, stats, metrics, talent analytics. Right side: the strategic side — a yea-high stack of CVs and digital resumes, people strategies, some highlight pens poking through, paper clips, notes like — topics for C-suite.

Chances are, you’ve faced these two teetering sides of your role at some point, weighing the administration versus strategy. You might even see it as a metaphor for both sides of your brain (many of us do). Traditionally, HR — a career role dedicated to the art of finding the right people strategies — covers both sides, whether or not we’re better suited to one side or the other. But a recent study by Bersin by Deloitte found that nearly 50 percent of the business and HR leaders it surveyed said their companies are ill-prepared to deliver programs that align with business needs. Between the sea change wrought by the Cloud and Big Data, and the ever-increasing strategic needs of organizations, covering both sides spreads us way too thin.

Is it time to saw our desks in half and break our field of HR into two?

1) HR as administrative machine. Call it left brain HR. In fact, HR is already relying on the scope and virtuosity of Big Data and analytics, forgoing CVs, digital resumes and candidate interviews in recruiting decisions. For large organizations, this is by necessity as much as opportunity. Xerox created a comprehensive screening test to winnow through candidates for its 55,000 call center positions. The data is mined not only for skills but predictors, including retention, and the approach has already slowed down a notoriously high turnover rate. The shift in recruiting approach also showed something surprising: experience in a similar position is not actually a predictor of success. And in terms of recruitment, that’s has enormous implications — for candidates as well as recruiters.

2) HR as strategic business genius. Right brain HR has an ever-expanding sea of strategic challenges to tackle. Here’s where the transformation in HR is the most profound. Freed from the task of simply managing talent, this side of HR can view and approach talent as the strategic investment it is. Many have said that talent today is what financial capital was in the past, and I agree: we all see how critical talent is to growth — just look at today’s skills and leadership gaps. In terms of improving parity between C-suite and HR strategies, this creates an arena for aligning those goals. It enables a truly strategic approach to leveraging talent from within, and increasingly agility when it comes to attracting and recruiting talent on a global, multigenerational scale.

Given it’s almost football season, let me kick out another metaphor: Go Patriots! Football teams have two sides, and each is steeped in its own drive to excel (and I know there are plenty of you who are going to run with that ball). Time HR did that too. That’s where we’re headed, and that’s how we’ll succeed. In terms of scale and leverage, it’s a win.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.